Who really won the fight? Hagler or Leonard?

The fight between ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard took place on April 6th, 1987 at Caesars’ Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The crowd, highly in favor of Sugar Ray Leonard, may have had an impact on the judges as the sold out sea of people roared whenever Ray through a combination whether the punches landed or not.

Ray’s ability to steal rounds was another huge factor in the scoring of the match. Leonard made sure he threw flurries and turned it on during the last 30 seconds of each round. This tactic, along with the crowd’s loud appreciation for him, was the difference in the fight.

Ray Leonard throws a sharp jab at Marvin Hagler's face.
Sugar Ray Leonard sticks a sharp jab in Marvin Hagler’s face during their super fight which took place on April 6th, 1987 in Las Vegas NV, USA. Leonard won the match by a controversial split decision.

You could watch Leonard vs. Hagler ten times and maybe score it differently each time. Also, watch it with the volume down, or on mute, and it becomes an entirely different fight. The main announcers, Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy were obvious Leonard fans. So, in essence, you have to block out the crowd and block out the TV commentators to gain a real feel for the match.

Overall, Leonard landed 306 of 629 punches (49%), Hagler 291 out of 792 (37%). The harder shots were landed by Hagler, but Ray’s constant movement, along with hitting and holding, made it difficult for Marvin to pin him on the ropes or in the corners.

Hagler vs. Leonard (Takeaways)

  • Hagler tried to fool / outbox Leonard – Hagler fought the first two rounds in the orthodox position, not his normal southpaw stance. This was a mistake as he gave away those rounds.
  • Leonard’s ring savviness – Leonard used every tactic in the book including holding behind the head, low blows, hitting after the bell, showboating, taunting and more.
  • Blind Judge – Two of out three official scores cards were accurate and fair, however, the third judge, JoJo Guerra, gave Leonard a score of 118-110. Whether you had Hagler winning or Leonard, 118 to 110 is an embarrassment to the sport. The fight, while being very hard to score due to how close many of the rounds were, no one in their right mind could give either fighter 118 points.
  • Hagler’s lack of speed getting punches off – Hagler’s speed had clearly diminished at this point in his career, starting with his match against Mugabi. Hagler threw quite a few misses while following Ray around the ring. This had a lot to do with Leonard’s ability to move around the ring, circling and getting in and out of exchanges with the current champ. All this movement did cause Ray to slow down at times, and during those moments, Hagler was able to land some effective punches, scoring when he had Ray on the ropes. Those moments were not frequent enough however, and not long enough. Often times, Ray would throw flashy speed combos to counter this attack. This had a profound effect on the crowd and the announce team even when a majority of those punches were misses.
  • You have to take the belt – To defeat a true undisputed champion (like a Marvin Hagler) you should really need to beat them soundly, hurt them, or stop them (KO, TKO). Ray, even when he landed his hardest shots, was never able to hurt Hagler or even faze him. Some say, if the fight had gone 15 rounds, Hagler would have most likely won the match. Of course, it was not fifteen rounds, it was twelve, and it will always be twelve.
  • Concessions given to Leonard – Hagler and his team gave away the size of the ring, the glove size, etc up to Leonard and his crew, choosing rather to get a higher payout then Leonard. Another mistake, as Ray Leonard used the entire ring for most of the fight, boxing Hagler, moving, picking his time to take his shots, then immediately getting out of danger.

There is no question that any true guru of the sweet science knows that Hagler vs. Leonard was not an easy match to score. As stated before, you can watch the bout ten times and come up with ten different score cards. Many of the rounds were very close making it difficult to determine a winner. When you add to that the love fest the fans had for Ray that evening, it made it all the more difficult for the three judges to remain objective.

Hagler vs. Leonard (Score Card)

Our score (BOXXXING) card is below. I am sure there will be many who disagree with it. Click here for a list of other boxing fan’s Hagler vs. Leonard score cards.

RDS (1-6) 01 02 03 04 05 06 TOTALS
Hagler 9 9 9 9 10 9 55
Leonard 10 10 10 10 9 10 59
RDS (7-12) 07 08 09 10 11 12 TOTALS
Hagler 10 10 10 10 10 9 114
Leonard 9 9 9 9 9 10 114